In the early 1900s, the coolest place to swim in Spokane was at Natatorium Park. The indoor pool’s pristine water came from the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.
The pool grew up with Spokane’s culture. Modest bathing suits gave way to tighter one-pieces. The pool hosted Esther Williams-style swim shows, before televisions were ubiquitous.
The indoor pool was razed in 1948 to make way for a modern outdoor pool but that one was emptied, too, years before Nat Park finally closed in 1968. Spokane’s changing culture contributed, because citizens preferred their neighborhood pools. Shadle, Comstock, Witter, and other city and county pools prospered. Parents dropped off their children for the entire day.
What lucky people swam in Natatorium Park’s indoor and outdoor pools on the pools’ last days? Our newspaper archives don’t say.
Starting today at A.M. Cannon Pool, Spokane citizens will have several chances in August to swim for the last time in the city’s five remaining municipal pools. Those pools will be replaced with six brand new pools, thanks to a voter-approved $42 million bond. When the humans are done with their final swims, the dogs will be let in. These closing rituals might seem corny. But just as it makes civic sense to open public structures in grand ways — here’s what you paid for, people — it also makes civic sense to mark the endings of these public structures.
A community can understand its values, and track its changes, by the money and energy it puts into recreation facilities. Nat Park grew into the city’s most popular spot when Spokane Street Railroad Co., a subsidiary of Washington Water Power Co., (now Avista) acquired the park. The company spruced it up to entice ridership on its electric streetcars.
The city’s new pools will open to great fanfare next year. And Spokane’s pool culture will continue to change. The pools will be much more welcoming to swimming and sunbathing adults — and, we hope, include plenty of room outside the fences for non-paying adults who wish to supervise their kids. The era of free baby-sitting by pool lifeguards is over.
An important chapter of Spokane’s civic story is ending this month. Take some time